By Emma Mayerson, Development Assistant
In high school I traveled to Guatemala with Where There Be Dragons, a study abroad program . For six weeks we lived in a small village in the mountains where we were each assigned a homestay and a tutor. One day, my tutor told me that her ex-husband used to physically and emotionally abuse her. Domestic violence was so common in her village, however, that when she told her sister and mother, they shrugged. When she told them she wanted to leave him, they told her she was crazy. She could not afford to leave him—what would she do for money? Like many women in her village, she had been pulled out of school before third grade to master cooking and sewing skills. Despite her lack of job skills, she was determined to find a job and leave her husband. Eventually, she found Where There Be Dragons and, though she was barely literate, asked them for a job as a tutor. They hired and trained her, providing her with the means to start a new life.
Before working with the Women’s Foundation of California, I was a community organizer for the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights. During this campaign I heard story after story of workers trapped in abusive situations. One woman told me she was paid $35 a month, in addition to room and board, as a full-time housekeeper for a family in Los Angeles. The family abused her both physically and emotionally, but her status as an undocumented worker prevented her from turning to the police. She wanted to leave. However, like the woman I met in Guatemala, she did not know if she could afford freedom. Through an act of remarkable self-determination she found CAST, the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking, a grant partner of the Women’s Foundation of California. CAST helped her find a new job, allowing her to leave the abusive family. She is now a leader in the campaign for the California Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights and has testified in Congress several times.
One of these women lives in a developing country, the other here in California. However, both have stories that illustrate oppression, courage and the power of a helping hand. Though thousands of miles apart, these two women’s stories are extraordinarily similar.
I have been an active philanthropist for nine years. Often in the philanthropic world the question of “global versus local” finds its way into the conversation. The premiere event for the Women’s Foundation’s Women Leadership Speakers’ Series, Amazing Women, Inspiring Stories, challenges us to reframe that question. There is need everywhere, globally and locally. Rather than pit needs against each other, let’s shift our focus and ask ourselves how we identify, nourish and cultivate leadership in our communities.
On November 2nd the Women’s Foundation is holding a free event to celebrate women leaders and changemakers. We will be previewing the Skirball’s new exhibit Women Hold Up Half The Sky, based on the critically acclaimed book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. Through documentary photographs, visual art, innovative sound installations and interactive artwork, this exhibit tells the stories of women leaders around the world. We are also honoring two extraordinary leaders based here in California, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, director of Miss Representation, and Dr. Kathy Magliato, one of the few female cardiothoracic surgeons in the world. At our event, Ms. Siebel Newsom and Dr. Magliato will engage in conversation about their lives as leaders and how they developed and advanced their visions of a better world.